UK Men's Basketball

No. 1 basketball recruit R.J. Barrett announces decision Friday. Does UK have a chance?

R.J. Barrett is the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2018, according to Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN.
R.J. Barrett is the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2018, according to Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN. AP

A casual scan of the predictions made by top recruiting analysts won’t give Kentucky basketball fans much hope going into No. 1 prospect R.J. Barrett’s college announcement Friday night.

National analysts Evan Daniels, Jerry Meyer and Andrew Slater have all logged pro-Duke picks on the 247Sports Crystal Ball page for Barrett, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard from Montverde (Fla.) Academy and the top player in the class of 2018.

Four national analysts from Rivals.com made predictions in Barrett’s recruitment this week. All four picked Duke.

ESPN analyst Jeff Borzello also favored the Blue Devils in his predictions post to kick off the early signing period Wednesday.

All of that would suggest that Duke goes into Friday’s announcement — which will be televised live at 6 p.m. on Canadian sports channel TSN — as the clear favorite. The lack of any high-profile picks in their favor would also suggest that the Canadian superstar’s other finalists — Kentucky and Oregon — have little chance.

It’s not that clear-cut.

“I think it’s a pretty tight race,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader on Thursday evening. “It’s been my belief that Duke has been out in front, but obviously anything can happen. And he certainly hasn’t eliminated those other schools. I think there will be a little suspense heading into this announcement.”

Barrett, the player who led Canada to a FIBA gold medal and a shocking victory over John Calipari’s USA Basketball team this summer, has taken official visits to all three of the schools on his list this fall. But he hasn’t said much of any substance about any of those trips. And he hasn’t said much of anything at all in the past couple of weeks.

“R.J. has been so quiet and hush-hush about his recruitment lately,” Daniels said. “He hasn’t been doing a lot of interviews. Not a lot of information has surfaced since the visits.”

Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans was one of the four from that website who predicted Duke this week. He told the Herald-Leader on Thursday afternoon that his confidence level on that is “minimal” going into Barrett’s big day.

“I will say that I’m rather on the fence about it,” Evans said. “I think that Oregon has a much better chance than people realize. And I’m not downplaying Kentucky.

“Kentucky has been good for coming out of the woodwork and stealing a guy every now and again, aka Kevin Knox.”

UK fans who follow recruiting — and therefore have seen all of the pro-Duke buzz surrounding Barrett in recent weeks — are holding on to Knox’s recruitment as a beacon of hope.

Knox, a five-star prospect in the 2017 class, committed to UK in early May, and there was little mention of the Cats as a legitimate threat going into his decision day. Duke led on Knox’s Crystal Ball page. There was also some buzz surrounding Florida State (his parents’ alma mater) and North Carolina. The Kentucky pick caught pretty much everybody off guard.

Could Barrett follow the same path?

Maybe. We won’t know until he reveals the decision himself, an announcement that will come less than an hour before Knox and UK tip off their season in Rupp Arena.

Asked Thursday if he would be “shocked” by any of the three scenarios left in Barrett’s recruitment — UK, Duke or Oregon — Evans said that he wouldn’t be.

“But I would say Kentucky would be the most shocking, if that’s the word you want to use to describe it,” he added.

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